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Veteran guitarists made impact on capital

Update: October, 18/2010 - 16:45

Veteran guitarist Pham Van Phuc, Vu Bao Lam, Nguyen Ty and Quang Ton still gather often to play. — VNS Photos Truong Vi
Group session: Ha Noi Classic Guitar Club members study together.
by Do Minh

For Ha Noi's guitar lovers, seven of the capital's most beloved guitarists continue to garner the respect and love of fans as they have done for decades.

Pham Van Phuc, Nguyen Ty, Nguyen Hai Thoai, Nguyen Quang Ton, Do Truong Giang, Dang Quang Khoi and Vu Bao Lam have all demonstrated the art of learning and playing guitar in Ha Noi during the last century.

Combined, the veteran guitarists spent tens of years studying on their own before founding their band, performing in front of audiences and before they became famous in the circle of Vietnamese guitarist circle.

Lam has been passionate about the guitar since his youth and had the chance to learn from guitarist Ta Tan, who was, at one time, among the city's leading guitarists. Lam became friends with Giang in 1954 and the two learned from one another.

Thoai arrived in Ha Noi one year later. Lam and Giang, aware of Thoai's fame, wanted to get to know him. Enjoying Thoai's refined skills, their love for the guitar grew. The trio became friends and played together to learn from each other. During that time, the idea of starting a band was born.

Ty is a martial arts master but he loves playing the guitar. He inherited his father's school of martial arts and became the master of the Nam Hong Son sect. His father, Nguyen To, a well-known martial artist in north Viet Nam, began teaching Ty when he was only nine.

One day, while evacuating from the war in Ha Noi, Ty met a guitar player. Enchanted by the sweet sound of the musical instrument, Ty wished that he too could play. When he returned to Ha Noi, he found a guitar and taught himself to play. Despite his background in martial arts, Ty feels naturally drawn to the instrument.

Charmed by their skills, he soon joined Lam, Thoai and Giang. The foursome often played at construction sites in Ha Noi to entertain and encourage workers.

At that time, Ton was known as a very methodical and scholarly guitarist. One day the group of young guitarists visited him and said they wanted to learn. Seeing their passion, Ton showed them his secret - a book of music by the outstanding German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

While the country was facing difficulties, the artists did not have a chance to develop. They practised and studied on their own as study books were hard to find. Ton had guitar training book and fortunately he decided to share it with the group and they practised together.

When Khoi and Phuc joined the group in 1955, the seven guitarists officially created their band and began to perform together in Ha Noi.

"We met and became friends as if we had a natural bond from a previous life," says Phuc. "Passion and a youthful desire helped us stand together and pursue playing guitar."

The group of seven quickly became famous in the city. They listened to CDs and songs from different sources and improved their skills. Love and support from their audiences helped them overcome all troubles.

"During the 1960s and 1970s, while the capital faced a challenging time because of the war, our group still practised together and performed at parks and clubs whenever possible," says Ty.

Once in 1972, musician Pham Tuyen of the Voice of Viet Nam Radio invited them to play for an audience. This was the first time they had a chance to perform for a large public audience. Sadly, when the group arrived at the studio, they found the radio's staff packing in a hurry. Tuyen informed them that the US planned to bomb Ha Noi and the radio station had to be evacuated.

It was not until a year later that the country enjoyed their music for the first time. The names of the seven Ha Noi guitarists became well known and they joined the Viet Nam Association of Musicians.

They usually performed for guitar lovers in Ha Noi and in the neighbouring provinces. Everywhere they went, they received love and support from admirers. While the country struggled through the war and its people were starved for entertainment, the artists were a source of solace.

The seven guitarists created the Ha Noi Classic Guitar Club to fulfil their desire to teach those who wanted to learn how to play.

Today, the veteran guitarists are getting older and some have passed away, but those who are still around continue to play together, keeping their friendship and passion alive.

"Passion for playing guitar brings us closer together and our friendship helps us pursue this passion," says Phuc.

The current chairman of the Ha Noi Classic Guitar Club, Nguyen Phuong Ha, 30, has been playing the guitar for 22 years. He took over the club from his master and from the firm foundation built by the artists. When he took office in 2000, the club only had one classroom and 10 members. Since then, Ha has helped the club thrive.

Catching tunes: A student of the Ha Noi Classic Guitar Club (left) practises.
There are now hundreds of members and Ha has invited lecturers from the National Academy of Music to teach them guitar.

"I'm the youngest chairman of the club and took over the work during hard times; however, I'm always encouraged by the previous generation," he says.

"Now Ty, Ton and Phuc are 70 but they still play together and teach youths. I have to try hard to feel worthy of what they did for the club."

Ha said he can't begin to guess how much effort the seven guitarists contributed to the club. He says he often talks to the students to encourage them to follow the veteran artists' example. "I respect their passion," Ha says. "In the past, they didn't have great facilities like we have now in which to learn, but they didn't stop improving themselves."

With Ha's endeavours, guitar has its place for music lovers. He has brought guitar closer to the public through performances at universities and social activities. He organises classes for anyone who wants to learn guitar. Ha also dreams of one day holding a nationwide professional guitar festival to support new talents. — VNS

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